Returning to Australia from China during the Coronavirus outbreak: a personal experience

By Jaz – a Thriving Turtles Team member

Each day, my family and I monitored the Central Chinese national news on the recent outbreak of Coronavirus. Each hour I would cross the great fire wall of China hoping to get some unfiltered news of the virus’ latest development. Yet despite the censored, cheery and hopeful nature of the Chinese national news, it seemed more transparent and detailed than any news coming from across the globe.

It at least showed that measures were put in place by the central government to contain the virus as well as to treat the infected. It at least showed that there was still food available in some places without massive price hikes. It at least showed that the Chinese people were joining together as comrades to fight in this war on Coronavirus. Sure, the number of infected and dead might be grossly under reported. Sure, there were videos showing various forms of violence and discrimination towards Wuhanese. Sure, the government should be blamed for trying to cover the earliest reports of the virus outbreak. But what can else the government do in the midst of this growing sense of panic across the country. To report on what was really happening would certainly result in mass hysteria leading to the behaviour shown only in the end of the world movies, total chaos. So came the national slogan on Chinese New Years Eve to appease the crowds: staying at home is the best contribution for your country in this fight again Coronavirus.

So eating, sleeping and the occasional walk around the apartment complex with a mask is what we did for the four long days after news of the Wuhan quarantine. When news came that the village chief had banned all celebrations, including my grandfather’s 80th birthday great feast, the very reason why my whole family of 11 people came back to Fuzhou, I booked the first available (and expensive) ticket back to Sydney. On returning, even though none of us displayed any symptoms nor came in contact with anyone who was from Wuhan, my family again decided to impose self-quarantine so as to minimise any chance of possibly spreading the infection. After all, staying at home is the best thing we can do for Australia. As we monitored all news channels each hour, my family become more and more grateful we were able to come back here with little hindrance while more and more Chinese nationals were trapped by the escalating travel restrictions.

When the news came that Australia had also closed its borders to all Chinese nationals who did not hold a permanent residency, my heart sank. You see, more than half of the 200,000 Chinese international students are stuck in China. That includes a large number of the student leaders and students in various university FOCUS Christian groups, including my own group at Sydney University. Following on from that news, my WeChat screen was filled with fearful posts of failing subjects and deferring studies. Petition groups to Sydney University to delay semester starts were filled almost as quickly as they were created. There was even talk of trying to get back to Sydney via self-quarantining in New Zealand or Thailand. Even when various universities suggested the possibility of online study, it wasn’t enough to calm the students’ anxiety. After all, not every course can be studied online, and even fewer are on platforms available to students behind the great fire wall of China.

Against this backdrop, Christian university groups like mine began to replan the semester in case Chinese students were delayed till much after the University starting date. Can we get enough facemasks and hand sanitisers to meet the Chinese students? Would there be any students for us to even meet this semester? With 95% of our student leaders trapped in China, how do we change our Orientation week strategy and meeting content for the few new and non-Christian Chinese students who do turn up? What about online evangelism training, bible studies and prayer groups? Perhaps this is the time to initiate and strengthen such meeting formats, which will benefit the students when they become returnees at the end of their degree. Indeed, for many Christian university groups, especially the international Chinese focused groups, we are in uncharted territory. My prayer is that the sovereign God will indeed use these unexpected circumstances to bring many Chinese students to himself.